Since 2014, Cemetery Filth’s singer and guitarist Matt Kilpatrick and guitarist Ryan Guinn have methodically built the foundation for a classic death metal assault on the senses. The group’s debut album, Dominion, explodes with lightning-fast guitar riffs and solos, rapid-fire drumming, and demonic growls with enough chilling fury to light a path from your turntable to your grave—just in time to hear the coffin lid slam shut. With a current lineup featuring bass player and backing vocalist Devin Kelley and drummer Chris McDonald, Cemetery Filth channels nonstop intensity into songs with titles such as “Paralytic Scourge,” “Festering Vacuity,” and “Devoured By Dread.” Dominion materialized April 13 digitally and on CD and cassette via the Athens-based metal label Unspeakable Axe Records. In June, vinyl copies appeared bearing the mark of Atlanta’s Boris Records. With LPs in hand, Kilpatrick took some time for a deep dive into the making of the album’s dark ruminations on death metal.
Chad Radford: Oftentimes, the greatest songwriting is crafted to be open-ended so it can mean different things to different people. Dominion, means sovereignty or control. It also means the territory of a sovereign or government. Both definitions light up my brain with ideas, particularly following the recent social and political upheaval we’re experiencing. But these songs predate what’s happening now. Was it important for you to create an album that has timeless qualities?
Matt Kilpatrick: It’s always been important to us for our music to not seem like a product from a particular time—which may sound completely hypocritical to some people considering we get lumped into the “old school” death metal category. Truth be told, we just prefer and write death metal that hasn’t strayed too far away from the core elements of the genre. We aren’t trying to sound like the bands from the ’90s for any reason other than that those releases are still some of the most viciously brilliant albums in the genre.
But we write what moves us, and I think to all of us, we wanted to make music that honored our influences, whether they’re old or new, and deliver a product where you can feel our passion for the music—like our influences, and the pioneers of the genre did.
The lyrics for the title track are a bit of a metaphor for death metal as an artform. It’s my disgust at the current trends in death metal, and the over-abundance of musicians from other music scenes suddenly discovering death metal, and trend-hopping and flooding the internet with boring, uninspired new projects that sell more T-shirts than they do actual music.
“Dominion only welcomes he who lets the old ways brew; rotting ways require an obsession beyond sanity; with time’s passing, you’re forgotten leave us in ataraxy.” These lines in particular are me emphatically stating that this is not a form of music you can listen to for a week, several months, or even several years, and be able to write your own version of the style. Death metal has so much going on within it. And it is my firm belief that you have to have a sickly obsession with it, for many years, to really understand how to create death metal that has the same energy and conviction as the gods that formed the genre’s classics.
That said, to those reading, please note that my use of the pronoun “he” by no means infers that only men can write death metal. That was something I wish I had realized and changed before publishing the music and lyrics. Some of my favorite bands, and favorite musicians in modern death metal are women, both cis and trans. I apologize to anyone it could possibly offend or turn off. Today’s current events only emphasize how important it is for us as a band to show support and love to all metal fans—no matter their walk of life.
I’ve always loved lyrical content that can be read and applied in different ways. Chuck Schuldiner of Death was known for wrapping life lessons into his lyrics, but carefully crafting them in a way that could be heard differently to different people. I think he got that train of thought from lyricists like Ronnie James Dio, who was arguably metal’s greatest metaphorical writer. While some of my lyrics may be more direct, I am heavily inspired by both of these men and the idea of using metaphors that can ring true through time.
Tell me about the concepts at work behind Dominion?
I would probably say the only single unifying theme on this album is just “DEATH METAL.” That’s why the lyrical concept behind “Dominion” kind of became the perfect subject for the album’s title track. The rest of the songs on the album deal with a wide array of lyrical concepts:
—“Subduction” is just a death metallized fictional tale based on the geologic process of plate tectonics recycling the earth and essentially “re-starting” ecosystems and life as a whole.
—“Exhumed Visions” is a tale about finding strength within yourself, remembering your goals, re-embracing them, and moving forward as the person you want to be.
—Songs like “Paralytic Scourge,” “Aeons in Dis,” “Churning of the Shallows, and “Devoured By Dread” all tell tales of cosmic horror. There are metaphors deeper in a few of those if you look for them.
—“Festering Vacuity” may be the most reality-focused lyrics on the album aside from the title track. It’s about our blatant disgust for a world where ignorance is valued over knowledge, and the toxic trend that follows when you have people of power championing ignorance to their already dumb sheep.
You are credited with writing the lyrics on Dominion. Are you the sole-songwriter? Do you write the musical arrangements as well?
I’m actually not the sole songwriter and consistent member. My fellow guitarist in the band, Ryan Guinn, has been with me since the very beginning, and is also the other prominent songwriter in the group. We both bring our ideas together and form the songs into what they are. Our bassist Devin Kelley, has been with us almost as long, and he also got to contribute a couple of riffs to songs. Both of these guys would help me arrange the riffs into actual song structures, and then we’d bring them to Chris McDonald, our drummer, to complete them.
Dominion was six years in the making. How did time unfold for this record, and how did the music evolve as you moved forward?
To be quite honest, most of the music on the album was written in the 14 months before recording. The oldest song on the record is “Devoured By Dread,” which was originally released on our 7-inch split with Australia’s Sewercide. We didn’t intend to re-record any old songs, but our drummer Chris threw out the idea of doing that one since it had changed a bit since the original recording.
We’ve always been a band that’s been split up between at least three states, and before we got Chris in the band, it was always very difficult to get everyone in the same room and working as a focused group to complete songs. We loved our old drummer very much, but at the time he couldn’t commit like we needed him to. Things never progressed while he was in the band. We’d get like one or two new songs done a year at most, and that’s pitiful. I’m not going to lie—a lot of that was personal disdain. It’s hard for me to “create” and get excited about a project if it seems doomed from the get-go.
It was extremely hard to put work into a project that seemed to keep tripping over itself. I think getting this line-up together finally gave me the confidence I needed in the project to write passionately again.
One of the dedications in Dominion’s liner notes goes to Morbid Angel guitarist Richard Brunelle. Do you think of Morbid Angel’s early take on death metal—Brunelle’s style in particular—as strong influences on Cemetery Filth?
Richard’s guitar playing was very instrumental in the creation of those amazing early Morbid Angel records. I don’t think a lot of people realize how important he was in the writing of both Abominations of Desolation and Altars of Madness.
Something about the vicious, barely controlled chaos of those records is so damn intoxicating still to this day, and in my opinion, without Richard on those records, they wouldn’t come close to the perfection that they are.
Though Death is my favorite band of all time, Morbid’s Altars is what I consider to be my favorite record ever released, and what I consider to be the world’s purest offering of ripping death metal. I’d say the insanity of that record has always been something Cemetery Filth has tried to match. We had once talked about covering “Suffocation” from it, but our drummer laughed and said we probably shouldn’t, because most of those songs are so insane that they are just barely held together. It’s really very astonishing how poignant that music still is to this day, over 30 years later.
Brunelle’s death was particularly hard for Ryan and I. We did not know him personally, but a very good friend of our band did, and was actually working with Richard on getting him back to playing music, and actually had started a death metal project with him. At the time, he was playing a horrible guitar that apparently couldn’t stay in tune when they played.
Ryan had an extra B.C. Rich Warlock guitar that he had been wanting to sell, and I sparked the idea of letting me, and our friend who worked with Richard, throw him some money so that all three of us could “donate” the guitar to Richard, who often played a Warlock during his days with Morbid Angel.
He was blown away when he received it, and couldn’t believe some guys he never even met would do that for him. He never saw himself as anybody special, but he was.
It was really hard to hear that he passed, but we like to think we gave him something that brought some refreshing inspiration to him in his last few months on Earth. And we certainly hope he realized how much he was loved by the metal scene.
The album is also dedicated to Michael Stewart and Bud Lancaster.
Both of these men were really close friends of the band, treasured members of the Southern / Atlanta-scene, especially to our drummer Chris.
Michael Stewart was the founding guitarist of Chris’s longest-running band, Ectovoid. He was a super talented dude, but more than that, just a great friend and passionate metal-head—and one of Chris’s closest friends in particular. He tragically passed away in 2016 due to an epileptic attack that went terribly wrong. He loved Cemetery Filth and we were honored to play the memorial show that Chris helped set up in his memory a few years ago. I really wish we could have seen what Stew would have gone on to do musically.
Bud Lancaster was another very close friend of Chris’s from Birmingham. I got to know Bud because he kind of became Ectovoid’s roadie and merch guy over the years. He was the sweetest, kindest dude. But like a lot of people these days, he suffered from terrible depression… and in late 2017, he decided he was ready to move on to the next world.
I honestly did not have enough time hanging with Bud or Stew, but I loved both of those guys a lot. There are just some people you instantly bond with. Bud and Stew were that for many people, and were cherished by the metal community here in the South. I hate that we lost both of them, and so close together. We all miss them terribly. I’m positive that they would be completely STOKED on our album and especially that their best-buddy Chris was a part of it… so it only made sense to make sure it was dedicated in their memory.
Dominion chugs along by creating an ambience, or a mood, or a moment in rhythm and texture. It’s not overly showy; more like Krautrock, or something like that, which is a deeply affective element with this record. Tell me more about the drawn-out instrumental bouts in songs like “Subduction,” “Paralytic Scourge,” and the title track?
Ah, thank you for that—I’m not sure that’s something we are even conscious of! We honestly craft songs according to “feel.” If there’s a part that is longer and more rhythm based, it’s that way just because it felt right to leave it that way. I think having sections where the music can breathe enhances a song. If we had vocals and solos over every riff it seems like the album would be one big blur, and that every track would sound far less unique from each other.
Death metal is a genre based around its instrumentation. The guitar riffs are what carry the song forward—they are the literal skeleton of any song. You can argue the drums are equally as important, but I will guess that most any band would agree that the riffs always come first.
I can’t speak for every death metal band in the world, but we have always crafted drums around the feel of the riffs. Chris McDonald—the drummer—joining the band went so smoothly and efficiently because he is a drummer that hears riffs and can quickly and fluidly apply a wide variety of beats and fills that compliment the riff. He’s literally told me “I’m just following what you guys are doing,” and the efficiency he has in that talent still impresses me to this day.
But really, any good death metal track is an arrangement of riffs that takes the listener on a journey. And like any journey, you have heavily narrated and intense parts, and then you’ll have parts where the story breathes and allows for the next big event in the tale to build up. So I guess if our instrumental sections of songs seem odd at times, they’re done intentionally to allow the next part to have an extra heavy or ripping impact on the listener.
Do you have a favorite song on Dominion, or is there one that resonates with you, maybe more than some of the others?
The favorite song for each of us probably changes often. If I had to choose one that is a particular accomplishment for me, it would be “Festering Vacuity.” It’s the only song I’ve ever written on my own, from beginning to end. That was a big goal of mine for this record, to contribute one song written completely by myself. Not to say that I dislike working with the other guys… I actually think a band’s best material comes from a band that does write together! But I wanted to prove to myself that I could write a full song, and the bizarrely jumpy, almost-manic sounding “Festering Vacuity” was the result.
If you were to sample one song to somebody to give them an idea of the full album, I would probably go back to “Churning of the Shallows” to be honest. That’s why we lead with that song as the big single that announced the release. It’s got a ton of different parts to it, and that’s always been a big part of Cemetery Filth’s writing style. We like our songs to evolve over time instead of following a predictable formula.
Dominion is out now via Unspeakable Axe and Boris Records.